If anything was clear from Catherine Deneuve’s responses to the #MeToo campaign it was how differently some of us view the behaviour of the men who inspired it.
And if Harvey Weinstein registers at the toxic end of the spectrum of male-female interactions, where on the behavioural rainbow should men and women look to find appropriate relations? Where do we draw that elusive line separating acceptable interactions between consenting adults and unacceptable abuses?
I work primarily as an independent children’s lawyer appointed to assist the Family and Federal Circuit Courts in some of the most complex and troubling disputes between parents in our community.
In a large proportion of the cases I see, family violence looms large, generally alongside allegations such as alcohol and drug abuse, intractable parental conflict and mental health issues.
In all of the cases in which I’m involved, judges are faced with the unenviable task of weighing the risks that these behaviours pose to children against another — equally terrible — risk: that an order protecting a child might also lead to the loss or attenuation of that child’s relationship with one of their parents.
The developmental damage caused by such a catastrophic loss of relationship is difficult to overstate, and the field of family trauma has accordingly triggered dense volumes of research from social scientists over the years to help decision makers find child-focussed pathways through these dark forests of parental conflict.
One of these pathways is lit by a landmark 2008 paper entitled Differentiation Among Types of Intimate Partner Violence.
In that paper, American researchers Joan Kelly and Michael Johnson described a four-part typology of intimate family violence that was less focussed on the actual physicality of violence than on the cognitive, emotional and social context of the conflict between intimate partners.
In heterosexual relationships, coercive controlling violence is primarily perpetrated by males, and can manifest as the perpetrator’s control of the economic, social, emotional and sexual life of the victim. The tactics used to gain this control include intimidation, emotional abuse, isolation, the assertion of male privilege, economic abuse, coercion and threats. Significantly, the male perpetrators of this form of family violence are likely to score above the average on measures of misogyny.
Violent resistance is seen as being perpetrated by women who are victims of coercive controlling violence — a woman who perhaps kills or stabs her partner after many years of coercive controlling violence.
Situational couple violence appears to be perpetrated by both men and women with poor impulse control, is not marked by patterns of coercion and control, and the male perpetrators tend not to register above community averages on measures of misogyny.
Finally, separation-instigated violence, as the name suggests, primarily occurs at the end of relationships as, for example, when someone has had a humiliating experience of loss by walking in on a partner in bed with someone else. While their violent behaviours can be extreme, the perpetrators of this form of family violence are considerably more likely than coercive-controllers to admit to that behaviour, express shame and remorse and refrain from a repeat performance.
What has all this to do with the Weinstein affair? As I’ve been picking over the countless #MeToo stories that have been tumbling into the public domain over the past few months, the parallels with coercive-controlling type behaviours have seemed clear.
The intimidation, the abuse of power, the misogyny, the objectification of other human beings: none of these behaviours seem to fall into the normal categories of acceptable social behaviour, but they are all too familiar to me as the behaviours that blight the lives of so many of the women and children I work with.
Without straying too far into the minefield of nature versus nurture arguments, anecdotally at least I have been impressed by the number of coercive-controlling perpetrators who have described childhoods of considerable emotional deprivation.
For me, this suggests a couple of relatively straightforward ways of intervening in boys’ lives to ensure that they don’t develop these kinds of behaviours. One is modelling.
If as men we model respectful, engaged relationships with women, the boys in our lives will potentially learn those behaviours themselves. Potentially, because not every model gets followed.
To make it more likely that we are successful role models we need to take it a step further: We need to engage our children by spending good quality time with them, by treating them respectfully and lovingly, and thus equipping them with an inner compass for what feels good in relationship and what doesn’t. Of course, this will necessitate both parent and child stepping back from screen time and making space for a real engagement with each other.
But individual behaviours are only part of the problem; how do we account for our collective blindness to violence against women for century after century?
We have only to look at the systemic inequalities between the genders in pay, in managerial seniority — in short, inequalities in power — to see the source of the hypnotism.
Rather than we men leaving it to women to have to point out to us year after year, generation after generation, that they feel that they have to defy gravity to get ahead in this world, let’s pull our collective fingers out and willingly, without having to be further pushed or cajoled, do our bit to dismantle the gendered landscape we all inhabit.
Let’s start with the way we engage with boys and work up from there, relationship by relationship, workplace by workplace.
Foucault encouraged us to think of power not as some kind of object, but as a description of a certain dynamic in human relationships. On this analysis, power is a field rather than a thing; and as Einstein was able to analyse gravitational fields topologically in his powerful theory of gravity, so we ought to be able to analyse various topologies of power.
Now, just as balls roll down hills in the gravitational topology we inhabit, so in the cultural topology of gender power we so unthinkingly traverse men, on average, are paid more and occupy more influential positions than women. Women do more housework than men, are paid less for the same job and exert proportionally less social and economic power.
Not only do vast numbers of women inhabit this systemic gravity well, but they seem to be the only ones who notice that there’s something unfair about we men occupying all of the high ground.
Is it any wonder that this landscape gives perpetrators of the most appalling gender violence a free pass to social invisibility?
But by all of us adequately fulfilling the emotional needs of the children in our lives, and by men tackling the blindingly obvious gender inequities in just about every area of society one might care to name, there’ll be no high ground for the Weinsteins and the other coercive-controlling perpetrators of this world to inhabit anymore.
Mark MacDiarmid is a solicitor who works in family law.
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